For years, people have been telling Adrienne Hartman she doesn’t look like she works in IT. When Michelle Schuler, now of Microsoft, co-founded Women in Technology Wisconsin, or WIT, three years ago, she wanted to take aim at the stereotypes about who works in IT as well as provide a way to support women and girls in technology. Hartman, who also serves as director of e-commerce and campaign sales for J. J. Keller & Associates, recently took over as president of WIT. She talked to Insight reporter Jessica Thiel about her goal to further the organization’s mission of empowering females in technology — and continuing to challenge the ideas about what an IT professional looks like.
Insight: You’ve been involved in Women in Technology since its inception. What makes you passionate about that work?
Adrienne Hartman: I’m passionate about many parts of Women in Technology. Originally, our founder Michelle Schuler was inspired because she realized that we had a lot of female technology professionals in the Fox Valley who didn’t know each other. As she started going down that path, she realized there was a bigger issue here. That bigger issue was that we have a gap between the number of people who are pursuing technology careers and the number of positions that are open.
As we really got into this, we realized that the number of girls pursuing these degrees has been decreasing since the 1980s. We hit a peak in the ’80s when around 34 percent of computer science graduates were females, and that number has been declining ever since, which is strange and sad. I’m passionate about wanting to help girls find their way and feel good about what they’re doing; helping college students stay interested in this technology degree; and helping women feel empowered and connected to their network. You can see it when you come to our meetings, that women feel comfortable, and they just have a different sense of purpose being in the room.
What parts of your work with WIT do you find gratifying?
I love it when I am with a young girl and seeing her have that spark of “I can do this” — when she has this moment of “I just made the computer do this thing, and I figured out a way to make this work and I can do it.” When they have that sense of pride, I really, really love that.
What hurdles must girls overcome when it comes to IT careers?
It’s hard for girls. Imagine if you’re a middle school girl, and you think you might be interested in technology in some way. So, you sign up for a coding club or you sign up for a class. Usually in middle school it might be a coding club, and when you show up for the first coding club, it’s all boys. And it’s boys who’ve been doing video gaming and some basic-level programming for years, so they seem like they know what they’re doing. It can be really intimidating for these girls to walk into that environment.
There are a number of girls who have told us they feel alone. When I talk to girls who are going through that, I talk to them about being alone and tell them, “Yeah, I was alone, too, and now I lead an amazing and diverse team.” I think girls like to hear that message. They like to be inspired by that and know that there is a light, but they also like having a safe place (like WIT4Girls), where they can go to this club and it’s all girls or it’s 95 percent girls and two boys.
What do you hope to accomplish with WIT this year?
We’re going through a strategic planning process. Kurt Hahlbeck (of Advancing AI Wisconsin) is helping facilitate that. We have received a number of requests to expand our program beyond the Fox Valley. People have heard that what we’re doing is working well, and they want us to grow into their communities as well. We’re looking at that. We’re not committing to doing that yet. That’s part of our strategy planning sessions. We need to figure out how to grow in the right way, so we don’t grow too fast and risk anything that’s working well here.
We’re continuing to grow our programs for girls as well. Really, that one is only limited by the number of volunteers we have. We’re in a number of schools. We have a number of members who are also teaching TEALS courses in schools. We’re expanding our college mentorship program where any female college student in one of the six colleges where we have an active program running, we will match them with a professional partner. Those girls … who have a professional partner or mentor (are) more likely to stick with their program and graduate.
What would you like to impart to girls interested in IT careers?
I wish girls, and quite honestly, boys, would realize that the stereotypes they have heard about careers in technology are probably wrong. This is a fun, dynamic, exciting career path, and there are so many different career paths it can take. Everyone in a technology career is not sitting at a computer, heads down coding all day, every day.
(In) one of our programs, we really talk about the 12 different types of careers in technology. There are so many different avenues a person can take, but sometimes maybe (people) see a stereotype of someone in a movie who does help desk support, and they think that’s what IT is. It is
so much more than that. As the world is changing, and we’re offering so many new technologies and robotics, there are so many opportunities, even here in the Fox Valley. (There are) a lot of job opportunities in the area, and these are good-paying jobs. In Wisconsin, STEM careers are paying $30,000 a year more than non-STEM careers. For people who want to enter the workforce now and want a sustaining, long-term career, it’s a really good route to consider.